Local law enforcement officials announced today the dismantling of a local branch of a national network of sex buyers and traffickers. The investigation resulted in the filing of criminal charges against over a dozen suspects in connection with the sexual exploitation of women who were being brought into the United States and then prostituted.
An investigation by the King County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Bellevue Police Department and support from the F.B.I. and the King County Prosecutor’s Office, culminated in the arrests of 11 men earlier this week who were local members of the online network that used its resources to promote prostitution and facilitate sexual exploitation. Investigators took the unprecedented step of using a court order to seize the primary website used by the group to rate, discuss and promote the prostitution of the women. Investigators also shut down 12 brothels associated with the alleged scheme and arrested four of the on-site managers.
In the spring of 2015, the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Bellevue Police Department began a joint investigation into the on-line sex trade and trafficking of prostituted persons in the greater Bellevue-Seattle area. The investigation was initiated in response to a report by a trafficking victim, who described being brought to America from South Korea and coerced into prostitution to pay off a family debt. The investigation focused on how individuals and organizations use the internet and social media to build and perpetuate a market for prostituted Asian women in the Pacific Northwest.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart was joined today by Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg at a morning news conference to announce the arrests and the filing of unprecedented felony charges against a total of 13 suspects. Three of the suspects charged, two men and one woman, were brothel owners. All of the defendants have been charged with Promoting Prostitution in the Second Degree.
Organizers of the network advanced the exploitation of prostituted individuals through a website called TheReviewBoard.net, where sex buyers offered graphic reviews of their “dates,” discussed how to access secret brothels and enthusiastically encouraged the members of the website to visit specific prostituted persons. The ReviewBoard.Net also allowed the posting of explicit advertisements for prostitution related activities and services.
The Review Board, known informally as TRB, had an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 members around the U.S., and the TRB’s vast community of sex buyers looked to the most prolific reviewers to access the underground world of illegal commercial sex, which advanced the commercial sex industry in the region.
Information shared on the site was used to exploit the foreign-born women, mostly from Korea, who were also being shuttled from one city to the next on a monthly basis. Organizers of the network encouraged sex buyers to consistently visit the most desired prostituted persons advertised so that they would be kept in the Seattle area longer.
A select number of TRB members were also recruited to participate in an exclusive and secretive group called “The League.” Membership to “The League” was by invitation only and required face-to-face meetings with “The League” organizer and was made up of members from all over the United States, including 14 men in the Seattle/Bellevue area. The password protected site was similar to TRB in that members were able to post reviews of prostituted persons and experiences, but due to the private setting, enabled the members to share more detailed information that they would not normally share on a public website. This information would include the precise locations of brothels, names of the bookers, names of agency owners, and intelligence on law enforcement activities. The League members also used the site to make arrangements for face-to-face meetings with other members.
Local League members met regularly in public locations, such as a local pub or restaurant. The members would discuss a variety of topics, nearly all of which were prostitution related. The informal discussions were designed to continue the advancing and promoting of prostituted persons in the King County area, as well as the broader U.S. market.
“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to holding accountable those who prosper from the crime of human trafficking, and to freeing the victims of that crime to live a better life,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart.
Bellevue Chief of Police Steve Mylett said, “This investigation highlights the fact that human trafficking and sexual exploitation in all its forms, including crimes involving force, fraud, and coercion are happening in communities throughout this nation every day. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and victim support organizations to hold the buyers and promoters of these criminal activities accountable for their involvement while identifying and assisting the victims of human trafficking in every possible way.”
The large-scale investigation also focused on brothel owners, who established a pipeline of foreign women to the Pacific Northwest to meet the burgeoning demand for prostitution fostered by TRB and The League. The brothels provided everything for the prostituted persons, including apartments, advertising, customers and condoms. The prostituted individuals are typically foreign nationals who are transported from major city to major city so that there are always new workers and new “experiences” for the brothels to advertise in order to meet the ever-growing online demand for commercial sex. The women rarely, if ever, left the apartments, and were told by bookers and schedulers in Los Angeles and Dallas when they would be having sex, with whom, and where. The brothels typically made the prostituted women available 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
“These charges reveal a part of our community that most people do not want to believe exists,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “Because they had money, these men gained access to sexually abuse these vulnerable young women, then put their energies toward a campaign to encourage many more men to do the same. This is what human trafficking looks like,” he added.
Sheriff’s detectives said the investigation is ongoing and additional individuals could be arrested and charged.